Le Mans 24 Hours 2012 Preview
With the Le Mans 24 hours scrutineering starting in Le Mans this Sunday we take a look at the cars that are going to entertain us at the Le Mans 24 Hours 2012.
Much has been written about Audi’s predicted dominance of this year’s race, and we aren’t going to predict anything different here, but the LMP1 race has more depth than most headline writers will have you believe. Peugoet’s demise & the hurried programme from Toyota, leaves Audi as clear favourites.
For 2012 Audi have entered 4 cars, 2 diesel powered R18 Ultras and 2 Audi R18 E-tron Quattro cars featuring diesel hybrid power & 4 wheel drive. In their only head to head race so far, in the FIA WEC round at Spa, the hybrid cars showed great pace in the wet, but suffered tyre issues in the dry giving the win to the R18 Ultras. However, with a damp forecast for the race & the title of 1st ever hybrid winner at Le Mans it would be a brave man to bet against the hybrid, particularly the No.2 car with the experienced trio of McNish, Capello & Kristensen behind the wheel.
The other factory team at Le Mans this year is Toyota. They have 2 TS 030 petrol hybrid cars to take on the might of Audi. Le Mans regulars may do a double take, as the Toyota paint job now resembles the Peugeot effort of recent years, but that may not be where the similarities end. The Toyotas are arriving at Le Mans a year earlier than expected. Their programme was hurried along following the withdrawal of Peugeot. Following their withdrawal from the FIA WEC round at Spa, Toyota have continued with testing their new-look car & the times set at test day last week were impressive. They have certainly recruited some quick drivers in both cars. Antony Davidson, Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre & Stephane Serrazin all bring Le Mans experience with them, and they join newcomers Sebastien Buemi & Kazuki Nakajima, who bring reputations for speed with them. From comments around the garage at test day, it appears very much like Toyota could try to make a dash for Le Mans pole during qualifying. However, there was a lot more talk about qualifying times for Toyota than there was about actually finishing the race, which would take the Toyota Hybrids well in to unknown territory.
The remainder of the 13 LMP1 entries are made up from privateer entries. Although they don’t have factory backing in the way Audi & Toyota do, there is plenty of interest in who comes “best of the rest” and maybe even an outside bet for a podium spot. Of the remainder the most likely candidates will probably come from the 2 cars entered by the Rebellion Racing team. They are relatively unaffected by the problems at car manufacturer Lola, they have a reliable engine supplied by Toyota and the team as a whole have a lot of experience not least at Le Mans. The new black livery will cut a dash around the circuit and their times at test day were more than respectable. The Rebellion Racing team will be there to pick up the pieces if any of the factory-backed teams fall by the wayside.
The cars entered by Henri Pescarolo have always been well received at Le Mans. The man himself has become a fan favourite at Le Mans & his teams have always produced competitive cars. 2012 sees the Pescarolo team enter 2 different cars, both powered by Judd BMW engines. The Dome car has had its issues with electrical problems and most recently had an accident in testing that threatened its appearance at Le Mans. Fortunately the car has been repaired. The other car is the Pescarolo 03, a car that has risen from the ashes of the failed Aston Martin AMR-One campaign last year. It is a new and relatively unknown package for everyone & their times at test day will have scared no-one, but more testing will have been completed on the Le Mans Bugatti track since then.
The remainder of the LMP1 teams are made up by Oak Racing, Strakka Racing & JRM. Oak Racing return to Le Mans with a single car in this class. The French team have once again opted for Gulf colours for their Judd engine Pescarolo car. This car may not set the timing screens alight, but it is known to be reliable and steady & is likely to be there at the end. Strakka Racing has moved up a class to LMP1 and will be cheered on by the British fans with its union jack painted fin. Their experienced driver team of Jonny Kane, Danny Watts & Nick Leventis make this a car that can challenge at the top of the petrol powered charts. Finally JRM bring another Honda HPD similar to Strakka. JRM looked good at Sebring but struggled at Spa, so hopefully Le Mans will be their turn to do well again. Their assembled drivers are a mix of speed and experience with David Brabham & Peter Dumbreck showing ex-F1 driver Karun Chandhok what endurance racing is all about.
With 20 cars entered the LMP2 class is by far the largest at Le Mans 2012. It is probably the most difficult to predict with similar car specifications all round. All cars will be using Dunlop tyres, 13 cars will be powered by Nissan engines, 5 with BMW Judd power and 8 of the LMP2 chassis have been supplied by the French manufacturer Oreca. This could be a really close finish with many cars capable of claiming the class honours.
The USA is represented in LMP2 by the Level 5 and Starworks teams. Both are bringing HPD Honda powered cars. Although Starworks have less experience than Level 5, both packages should be quick at Le Mans, so expect them both to be challenging the leaders.
The Nissan powered cars dominate the field and bookies will make these the favourites on statistics alone. Signatech Nissan has 2 cars combining the Oreca chassis with Nissan power. This combination is mirrored by ADR Delta, Boutsen, TDS Racing, Murphy Prototypes & Pecom Racing. This package should be well suited to Le Mans & the class winner could well be amongst this pack. Others using Nissan power include Greaves Motorsport who have 2 cars entered, although the media will keep a close eye on the car that combines video gamer turned driver Lucas Ordanez with father and son drivers Alex & Martin Brundle. The SkyF1 cameras will be at Le Mans this year following the performance of Martin Brundle and Ant Davidson (Toyota) both of whom form part of the channel’s presenting team. Jota make the step up to prototypes with a Nissan powered Zytek whilst Gulf Racing Middle East are present with 2 Nissan powered Lolas. Gulf Racing will be hoping to recover from less than perfect performances at both Sebring and Spa.
The remainder of the LMP2 field have chosen BMW Judd engines to power their cars. Both Status GP (Lola) and Extreme Limite (Norma) have spent much time behind closed doors in recent weeks repairing damage received during the FIA WEC round at Spa, but they will be ready. Lotus bring a Lola coupe that will be mistaken by many as a Rebellion LMP1 car due to its black livery, whilst Race Performance from Switzerland combine the Judd engine with the Oreca Chassis. They are the only team to choose this option; could it be the winning combination? Rounding off the class are two cars from Oak Racing, who this year are racing under the Morgan Cars banner to help celebrate 50 years since the Plus 4 Morgan won its class at Le Mans.
In recent years some of the best on track battles have come from the GTE classes, and with just 9 cars entering the GTE Pro class this year, we are looking at entries of quality if not quantity at this year’s Le Mans. BMW may well be conspicuous by the absence from the field but expect a close fight to the finish in this year’s GTE Pro battle.
Thos spectators that like to hear the cars first before they see them will be pleased to know that Corvette Racing are back with 2 cars. The team now has plenty of experience and success at Le Mans and their cars should be suited to the circuit. Someone will have to go well to prevent more honours for the American outfit.
That someone may well be Aston Martin Racing who return to the GT E classes following the disaster that was the AMR-One prototype. Expect them to bounce back with a very quick V8 Vantage in Gulf colours. In the past the car has suffered from reliability issues, but there is a new confidence about this team now. Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Adrian Fernandez have stayed on board as drivers so all the pieces are now in place for the AMR team.
The familiar names of Felbermayr Proton & Flying Lizards Motorsport return to Le Mans with very competitive Porsches. Both teams have factory driver line-ups with experience, speed & success on their side. At test day both teams trailed in the wake of the Corvettes but who can bet against Porsche, and the Flying Lizards team must be due some better luck this year.
Four Ferraris complete the GTE Pro field. AF Corse bring 2 Ferrari 458s in their traditional red with Italian stripe. AF Corse have been successful at Le Mans and most recently at Spa, but they will face a challenge from both the Ferraris of Luxury Racing and JMW Motorsport. Luxury Racing arrive at Le Mans under a cloud of political & legal issues, where as it will be difficult to miss the Dunlop art car of JMW. Hopefully the car’s paintwork resemblance to hazard warning tape is not an omen for the team.
Although the GTE Am cars must be of a 2011 or earlier specification expect some of these cars to mix it with their GTE Pro brothers and sisters, particularly when their token professional (they are allowed one) is at the wheel. Similar to the GTE Pro we will see 2 Corvettes and an Aston Martin Vantage do battle with Porsche & Ferrari. This time though Porsche & Ferrari are represented by 5 teams each in an equal split.
Larbre Competition won the GTE Am class last year, and they return this year with 2 ex-factory Corvettes. They may not be the outright fastest car here but they will be quick enough & barring any accidents will be challenging after 24 hours. We could even see a Corvette winning both GTE Classes at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
Out to stop the Corvettes will be Aston Martin Racing’s Vantage V8. This is the chassis previously raced under the Young Driver banner last year. The car features an all Danish driver line up this year and similar to the Pro car Aston Martin Racing are expecting big things. The car is certainly quick, but AMR will have had to sort out their reliability issues to get the result they want.
The Porsche representatives in GTE Am include cars run by Flying Lizards & Felbermayr Proton, who also go head to head in GTE Pro. The JWA-Avila Porsche is making its Le Mans debut after months of testing at Snetterton as is the Prospeed Competition car with a Saudi Prince behind the wheel. Perhaps the greatest challenge from the Porsche Cars will come from the French entry of IMSA Performance Matmut. The red, white & blue car has been racing at Le Mans for several years, so experience is not a problem, their drivers are quick and they are coming off a great result in the FIA WEC round at Spa.
AF Corse & Luxury Racing have Ferraris in GTE Am as well as GTE Pro & the red Ferraris will be looking for success in this class. The distinct lime green Ferrari of Krohn Racing won’t be difficult to spot around the Le Mans circuit. Tracey Krohn is team owner and driver and will be hoping to avoid the traffic this year to put pressure on the leaders of this class. Finally the French JMB Racing team will complete the Ferrari line up with a white 458. Testing suggested that they may be adopting the tortoise approach rather than the hare. Always a good strategy at Le Mans.
To finish first, first you have to finish.
So there you have it; the competitors for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2012. Hopefully all will be present come at 3pm on the 16th June for the start of the race. How many are still running at the same time on the 17th June remains to be seen.
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Words: Richard Webb
Photos: David Davies